110/365 – Brooks on Israel

These have the look of magnolia blossoms
These have the look of magnolia blossoms

What’s it really like in Israel?  What’s the culture? I came across a column by my man, David Brooks, who I introduced a few posts ago, that illuminated this culture for me.  Apparently, everyone loves to argue.

Brooks writes, “Israel is a country held together by argument. Public culture is one long cacophony of criticism. The politicians go at each other with a fury we can’t even fathom in the U.S. At news conferences, Israeli journalists ridicule and abuse their national leaders. Subordinates in companies feel free to correct their superiors.”

Sounds both fun and exhausting.  Brooks called it an “insufferable and necessary barrage of self-assertion.” For after all, “This is a tough, scrappy country, perpetually fighting for survival.”

Another interesting point: “Israel’s enemies claim the country is an outpost of Western colonialism. That’s not true. Israel is, in large measure, a Middle Eastern country, and the Israeli-Arab dispute is in part an intra-Mideast conflict.

“The other countries in this region are more gracious, but often there is a communal unwillingness to accept responsibility for national problems. The Israelis, on the other hand, blame themselves for everything and work hard to get the most out of each person. From that wail of criticism things really do change.”

Makes me wish Americans took a little more time to hash things out instead of having their minds made up in advance.  To read the whole column, click here.

109/365 – My first mass, a meditation on faith

The altar of St. Patrick's Catholic Church, Madison, Wis. Sunday, April 19, 2009, second Sunday of Easter.

The altar of St. Patrick's Catholic Church, Madison, Wis. Sunday, April 19, 2009, second Sunday of Easter.

I feel called upon to help translate the Christian faith into English.  Actually, the words that came to me were, “Explain Christianity through English.”

Ah, but you say, the King James version of the Bible is nearly 400 years old, and many other translations, including one by Noah Webster, already exist.  What work remains to be done?

Well first of all, I’m not proposing to retranslate the whole Bible from Hebrew, Greek and Aramiac, just certain passages.  It’s not even the Bible itself I’m worried about, but the way the meaning of certain key terms commonly used to discuss religious faith have drifted or become fuzzy (or always were fuzzy).  I want to make sure the meaning of key terms is clear in contemporary American English, where so many words have become debased.  In addition, English is not always a precise language; it often takes a few words in a phrase to convey the meaning of a Latin, Greek or French term.  Or we just use the foreign term.

With that bit of background, let me meditate on a key word, perhaps the most basic term of all: faith.

“Faith” strikes me as a word that is open to a lot of interpretation.  To say, “I have faith,” seems to beg the question, “In what?”  And while Christians and Muslims speak of “the Faith” and know what they mean, other prideful rationalists rejoice in rejecting belief based solely on faith.

Digging back into the derivation of the term, I find it’s not originally a religious word.  It comes from the Latin fides (think “fidelity), meaning “to trust, have confidence in, believe.”  It was filtered through Old French as feid, and fei, then into Middle English as feith, a spelling I rather like.

The first definition in my Webster’s New World College Dictionary (4th ed.) is: “1. Unquestioning belief that does not require proof or evidence.”  That’s what I would call “blind faith” [good band], if I were making fun of it, and “divine faith” or “divinely inspired faith” if I felt it, which I do.  Interestingly, while my faith in God came to me through grace and I accepted it unquestioningly, I have also been provided with ample proof and evidence of both the existence of God and the power of God’s will in human life.  “Proof after faith” might also seem like a delusion to rationalists, but there are plenty of Christian apologists to take them on.  I’m just working on our vocabulary.

The second New World definition is the more familiar: “2. Unquestioning belief in God, religious tenets, etc.”  To convey this meaning, I would use a modifier, such as “religious faith” or “faith in God” rather than the bare word.  Because the religious cannot own the word “faith,” even when they capitalize it.  It’s a gentle, warm word to me, meaning complete trust, having complete confidence in something or someone, to rely on someone without question, as a child does a loving parent, or as loving spouses do.

103/365 – Maybe my last personal entry

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What to write?  Taxes?  Who cares.  Love?  Too personal.  Conversion?  Is it really anyone else’s business but me, Jane, and God?  Well, to be fair, I’ve already blogged about it and it’s only natural for people to be curious how it came out.

For those just tuning in, I have been studying Catholicism on Tuesday nights for the past nine months, and got confirmed on Easter Saturday, so now I’m a full Catholic, as is my fiancée, Jane, who converted 10 or so years ago. Jane told me of her conversion on our first coffee date and once I knew there was such a process, I was deeply moved to take part in it.

As for the ceremony itself, there are so many steps and stages, you have some time to prepare yourself for the final rite of communion, but there’s really no way to anticipate it, and I tried to remain in the moment.  As I wrote on Sunday (101/365), I got real emotional after communion, but luckily it was a short trip back to my pew where I could kneel and be as emotional as I needed to be.   It was a feeling of coming home, to a home I really never had, but which was waiting for me all along.

I feel different now, and will conduct my life differently as well, with more joy and less sarcasm (well, not too much less), less mean-spirited, bitter sarcasm, but still some righteous indignation where needed to puncture pontification and pretense — especially my own.

I’ve been to confession twice, and haven’t covered all 10 commandments yet.  I keep on dredging up heavy things on my conscience to confess to, and Jane tells me that process will continue. 

I continue to try to make things right with my past relationships with women.  As I face up to each situation, I feel a powerful cleansing emotion – that human blend of sadness for a life that might have been mixed with gladness for the lives that came to be.  I just want any harm to stop and healing to begin.

101/365 – My first Easter Sunday

The view from the Cross.

The view from the Cross.

The inner life of faith, the outer life of service,  these both began today.  My viewpoint has changed; my former life is crucified, sacrificed to the bonfire of vanity.

I got real emotional after communion, but luckily it was a short trip back to my pew where I could kneel and be as emotional as I needed to be.  It was a feeling of coming home, to a home I really never had, but which was waiting for me all along.

100/365 – A new start in Christ

My baptismal candle, confirmation certificate, and saint name.

My baptismal candle, confirmation certificate, and saint name.

Tonight is the ceremony that makes me a Catholic.  Interesting that it is the 100th day of my blog.  One hundred is not sufficient to number my sins, now reconciled, nor will it number my days of salvation, which are infinite.  Thanks again to my Jane, my guide, my theologian, my Love, for opening this door.